Parents need to know that “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race” is a picture book version of the inspirational true story now well known from the award-winning film, and previously published as a best-selling book for adults and a young readers’ edition for 8-to-12-year-olds. The four African-American women featured in the book were, as the book repeatedly puts it, “good at math. Really good.” They overcame discrimination during the Jim Crow era of segregation laws in the South, and excelled as human “computers” at NASA, working on the complicated calculations required to design and test new airplanes during WWII, and later rockets for the space race. The book includes a timeline, bios of the four women, and a glossary explaining words like aeronautics, sonic boom, and turbulence. It also explains segregation and civil rights history.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
“Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race” tells the story of four African-American women, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who all worked at NASA in impressive STEM careers against a backdrop of racial discrimination. Vaughn was hired in 1943 as a human “computer,” to do complicated calculations before computers were invented. Her work advanced the development of faster airplanes for World War II. She later learned how to program the earliest computers and taught other women of color to program. Mary Jackson also worked as a computer, testing airplanes in wind tunnels. She fought for the right to attend an all-white school to take the courses she needed to become the first African-American female engineer at the lab. Katherine Johnson analyzed turbulence and calculated the course rockets traveled through space. Her work was essential for the first manned space flight. Christine Darden worked on NASA’s mission to the moon and designed supersonic airplanes.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
This wildly inspirational story of four African-American women who excelled in STEM careers deserves to be shouted from the rooftops, and this picture book brings it to young readers. “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race” covers a lot of ground, packing a lot into its few pages. Author Margot Lee Shetterly worked with Winifred Conkling, author of numerous nonfiction picture books, to present simple explanations of complicated historical events and scientific concepts. For instance, to explain segregation, the book says, “She lived in Virginia, a southern state, where laws segregated, or kept apart, black people and white people.” It then lists concrete examples: “They could not eat in the same restaurants. They could not drink from the same water fountains.” With similar clear and simple language, one woman becomes an engineer designing “supersonic airplanes — planes flying faster than the speed of sound.” And threading the women’s stories together is the refrain that each one “was good at math. Really good.”
The colorful illustrations by Laura Freeman make the compelling, human story come to life. The women look real in a way that will help kids relate. The art’s evocative and emotionally exciting, playing on inherent drama of the civil rights marches and the excitement of sending humans into space.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 4 and older
Quality: 5 out of 5
Educational value: 5 out of 5
Positive messages: 5 out of 5
Positive role models: 5 out of 5
Violence and scariness: 0 out 5
Language: 0 out of 5
Authors: Margot Lee Shetterly, Winifred Conkling
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Genre: Picture Book
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Number of pages: 40